Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Morning cuppa - and then some

Pattiveeranpatti, a panchayat town in Dindigul district, has a population of just under 8,000 people, according to the 2001 census of India. Chances are that almost every one of them is dependent upon coffee for their livelihood. The town has a history of coffee growing going back nearly a hundred-and-fifty years and is one of the coffee hubs of the country - if further proof of its importance in the world of Indian coffee is needed, consider this: of the 22 associations of coffee growers / traders in Tamilnadu that are recognized by the Coffee Board, 7 have their offices in Pattiveeranpatti. By any yardstick, that makes it a force to reckon with in coffee circles.

Pattiveeranpatti's connect with Madras is not a story of brute power, however. P.R.K.Nadar had started off helping missionaries in the Palani hills sell the coffee from their plantations, sometime in the early 20th century. As has happened in several such stories, he decided that he was cut out for larger things and brought along his coffee to Mylapore. Setting up shop to the south of the Kapaleeshwarar temple, he began selling his coffee to the locals. It is common knowledge now that a cup of hot filter coffee early in the morning does put a lot of beans into the body; almost three-quarters of a century ago, this discovery must have electrified the local populace. Demand grew and P.R.K.Nadar - or could it have been his son? - decided it was time to brand their coffee and so was born Leo Coffee - a brand that has instant associations to Madras, to filter coffee and for Madrasis of my generation, to A.R.Rahman; it is said that the music he scored for the Leo Coffee Ad brought him to the notice of Mani Ratnam, beginning a journey that has so far travelled all the way to the Kodak Theatre.

But the firm of PRK Nadar & Sons takes all of that in its stride, for they still retain some of their old-world ways; click on the picture and you will see their sign still reads 'Madras'. Even more interesting - they still display their 5-digit telephone number!


Lowell said...

You do the slice-of-life thing so well. I find all of your posts most interesting!

Shantaram said...

@ Jacob: Thank you! (and I've lost count of how many times I've said it :))

Lowell said...

You're very welcome!